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BHM Sickle and Heart [BHM, Fantasy, Romance]

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Ghostboo

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2019
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217
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Have I been reading a ton of fantasy lately and going “someone needs to write all this as way less thin & mono-normative - oh shit that someone is me”? Maybe. Enjoy!

Sickle and Heart
by Ghostboo

Chapter One

The slight tightening of Kelvi’s small green body around her wrist alerted Odine to the imminent arrival of Meera’s own familiar. Rocking back from her position on her hands and knees from which she had been cleaning the floor of the study, Odine rested on her ankles, glancing down at her snake familiar before turning her attention to the door. Moments later, Felix, an admittedly gorgeous siamese cat, sauntered into the room. Odine bit down on a sigh, both she and Kelvi looking back at the mostly pristinely clean floor they’d been working on for hours. She wasn’t permitted to use her magic, naturally, and not for any real reason other than to make it more difficult. Though the truth was - and she’d never admit this to her employers - Odine actually found more difficulty in minor helpful spells than almost anything else. Chances are, she’d have cleaned by hand anyway.

Meera Strickland (and by extension, Felix) was the child of the landed gentry that employed Odine. Their estate was sprawling and beautiful, and Odine, as a handmaid of Meera’s, was far from their only servant. Sometimes Odine thought she certainly had the honor of being the most despised, though it was hard to tell. Probably something in the way Odine continued to carry herself, despite how she’d fallen in life.

Odine had been born in the far north - which was evident to anyone who laid eyes on her. Where most citizens of the kingdom boasted tanned skin and flowing dark hair, Odine had the coloring of a snowstorm. Her skin was hardly a shade or two above paper white, her platinum silver-white hair similar. Where it had once been long, while she worked in this grand house, Odine kept her hair short - causing it to curl up and bunch about her head in a decidedly unfashionable halo. Her eyes were light too - the outer edges an icy blue-grey, the inner corners flecked with gold, and the ring that met them in the middle a similar green to her snake familiar, Kelvi.

But the northern territory, once stewarded by Odine’s own parents, had fallen to the monsters. No one ventured there now. Odine was one of many refugees who had made their way into the central part of the kingdom, and she was lucky enough to find work - though not lucky enough to have had her parents with her. Thanks to them, she had made it out alive - though sometimes she wished the positions were reversed.

“Scat, Felix,” Odine said quietly - and was, of course, ignored. The cat slunk past her and into the clean room - rubbing his body against everything he passed, aside from Odine. Long white and brown hairs drifted off and landed around the previously pristine room. “Oh, gods -” Odine hissed, cutting herself off as Kelvi tightened around her wrist, both of them realizing in that moment that she had misstepped.

“What are you saying, Dandy?” Meera’s beautiful form filled the doorway immediately, and Odine had to stifle another sigh. Meera was also a blonde, but unlike Odine’s icy curls, Meera’s hair fell in comforting honey gold waves to her thin, tanned shoulders. Her eyes were round and brown, easily manipulated into an innocent expression around others as needed - which certainly wasn’t the case when she was around Odine. She enjoyed pulling out the nickname Dandy, short for Dandylion, as an insult comparing Odine and her pale halo of hair to the weed. “My, it looks dreadful in here. What have you been doing?”

“I’ve been cleaning,” Odine replied in her low, quiet voice. She held it even. “As you know.”

“No, Dandy, it doesn’t look like you have been,” Meera snapped, clearly irritated by the unruffled expression on the face of the servant in front of her. That didn’t change as Meera stomped further into the room. “Once again, you expect us to continue to feed and house you while you do nothing. It’s unacceptable, and I convince my parents moreso of it every day.” Meera peered at Odine - still, nothing changed on the pale girl’s face. Felix rubbed against Meera’s legs.

“Fine, you can do something else,” Meera finally said. “I require apples for a snack. Go and fetch me some.”

Silently, Odine got to her feet. But just before she exited the room -

“Oh, and Odine? I expect my apples to be the very crispest the glade has to offer. If you return with any that are unsuitable, expect to go back out immediately.”

Finally, there was a tensing in Odine’s jaw. But she merely nodded and left the room, hearing Meera’s coos at Felix from behind her.

Meera’s family estate included the first layers of an apple grove - which meant that the magical wards that kept monsters from breaking in (most of the time) included those as a safe spot to forage. But the particularly crisp apples Meera referred to were not the ones closest to the estate - they were the ones growing by the river, in the middle of the glade. Where there was no additional protection for any travelers, and the close-knit trees formed shadows that were perfect for any hungry creatures to hide in.

Stifling a sigh, Odine retrieved a wicker basket along with her walking stick. Self carved, it was a little shorter than Odine’s petite frame, with a firm oak base and a curved half-moon sickle at the top. Now as prepared as possible, Odine made her way out of the house and into the yard - hesitating only briefly at the border of the family’s land, and therefore, at the border of their protections - before plunging into the forest.

For such a deadly landscape, Odine had to admit to the relief that the trees offered. Coming from the north, she was unused to the summer heat of the central kingdom, even now, nearly ten years later. The shade of the trees elicited a very soft sigh of relief from Odine as some of the sun’s heat was foiled, though Kelvi squeezed her upper arm in warning to stay quiet as he slithered up for further warmth himself.

Carefully, quietly, Odine made her way nearly to the river’s edge. She could catch glimpses from where she was, and the running water would hopefully disguise some of her sounds as she set down the basket and began to gather the reddest (and therefore, crispiest) apples that she could find.

A few minutes in, however, Odine must have made a misstep in her careful moves - or perhaps she was just unlucky. A slithering in the tall grasses behind her announced the arrival of - something. Odine gritted her teeth, took hold of her walking stick, and turned.

The problem with living alongside monsters AND animals is that it could often be either, causing many people of the kingdom to attack first, check the noise was dangerous later. Many didn’t see an issue with this, even when it was an unsuspecting person hurt or even killed. But Odine did. And as she saw tall, slick, waving stalks in a grey-blue rising out of the grass headed towards her, she still didn’t attack. Those stalks could belong to a bushslug - a harmless herbivore that had a symbiotic relationship with many of the fungi it lived near - or its cousin, a fangslug, that hungered for human blood and human blood alone.

As the creature pushed into view and revealed its thick, gelatinous body beneath the waving stalks along with several rows of triangular, razor-sharp teeth, multiple things happened at once. The fangslug charged for Odine (as best as the terrifying, if slow-moving, creature could), Odine swung with her walking stick, and a deep shout echoed through the forest from behind Odine.

With the crescent moon end of her walking stick embedded in the now-dead fangslug, helped along by a silent curse that invited the life of the creature on the other end of the sickle to drain upon contact, Odine blinked and turned.

A mountain of a man was emerging from behind a tree, looking from the dead fangslug to Odine and then back again. He was at least a foot taller than her, with close-cut auburn hair and a matching beard. Even just his chest was twice as broad as Odine - impressive, for though she was short, she was far from fashionably lithe - but that wasn’t even his most expansive feature. Below a noticeably strong chest, a large belly curved out and over until it rested half-atop his belt. Which Odine recognized as part of a commissioned uniform - the man was a soldier, making his rounded form all the more interesting. Didn’t soldiers have limited rations and near-constant physical training?

The soldier cleared his throat, and Odine lifted her eyes, realizing too late that she had been staring. His deep grey eyes looked into hers from beneath a furrowed, concerned brow.

“You killed the fangslug,” the man said, his voice flat but with a slight lilt of confusion, at the exact same time that Odine said:

“I’m sorry, were you speaking to me?”

Both broke off and stared at each other. The soldier’s large hand rested on a sword at his side, the impressive curved hilt lightly pressing into his rounded love handle.

“Yes,” Odine said finally, quietly. “I did.”

“I was just shouting for you to get out of the way,” the soldier grumbled out his own answer. “What are you doing out here alone, anyway?”

“Collecting apples,” Odine replied.

“And that’s worth nearly getting killed for?”

“I didn’t get nearly killed.” The soldier merely raised an eyebrow, though it was the truth. Odine paused before adding: “And I don’t have a choice.”

“You don’t appear to be starving,” the soldier replied bluntly, then blinked as he realized what had come out of his mouth. “Sorry, I didn’t mean -” and Odine immediately quirked her own eyebrow - a half smile appearing on her pale lips as she looked the man up and down. Allowing her gaze to linger on the overhang of his belly, the soldier’s tan skin flushed across his cheeks. “You’re collecting them for someone else.”

“Yes,” Odine said simply, but allowed the half-smile to stay on her face. You got it.

“A husband?”

Odine wrinkled her nose.

“That’s good, I suppose,” the soldier said, then seemed to realize his words again. “Simply because any man who would expect this of you is - not - you know.”

Odine’s half-smile slowly became a full one.

“Feel free to save me from myself here anytime,” he finally groused, releasing his sword. Despite his shout, no further monsters had attacked - likely due to seeing this enormity of a man as they got closer and turning right around, if Odine had to guess.

“For my…employers.” Odine couldn’t bring herself to say mistress about Meera.

“Ah,” the soldier said. “May I escort you back, then?”

“Yes,” Odine assented, resisting the urge to assure him that she didn’t actually need it. He saw the dead fangslug in front of her, and didn’t seem unintelligent - he must realize she could hold her own. He was simply being polite.

In silence, which was most comfortable for Odine as it was how she spent most of her time, the pair walked back to the estate. The soldier’s brow furrowed further as the trees began to thin and they neared the wards.

“You work for the Stricklands?”

“I do.”

“But there are apple trees on the property.”

“Those apples are not crispy enough,” Odine said with a wry smile. “Supposedly.”

As they emerged through the last of the trees, onto the lawn of the Strickland estate, the back door flew open. Odine stifled a sigh and turned to the soldier to thank him - but he was nowhere to be seen. Cocking her head in confusion, Odine didn’t allow Meera’s shriek as she flew down the stairs to visibly rattle her in any way.

“Where have you been? Gods, I’ve been starving. And you were gone so long for…” Meera stopped right in front of Odine and stared into the nearly empty basket. “Three apples? What is wrong with you?”

Odine didn’t answer right away, still looking around the yard.

“Fangslug,” she said finally, but Meera wasn’t listening.

“This…this is not a crisp apple,” the heiress seethed, picking one of the fruits out of the basket. “I can tell! You didn’t go into the woods at all, did you? You’ve just been lurking nearby, doing gods know what, as usual. You’ve gone too far this time, Dandy, and my parents won’t stand for it. Unless you go back out, right now, and stay out. If you return in less than four hours, and with less than two basketfuls of apples, then I shall see to it you are dismissed.”

Odine didn’t dignify this near-certain death sentence for most with a response. A slight ripple in the air a few feet away from her right shoulder had caught her attention, and she watched calmly as the soldier who had walked her home stepped out of the invisibility charm he had cast on himself as soon as Meera had opened the door.

Meera, meanwhile, let out a yelp as she saw the man emerge from seemingly nowhere. Felix, who had followed her triumphantly out the door, arched and hissed.

Until they got a good look at him, and paled.

“You would condemn this woman to the monsters of the forest for apple quality?” The soldier spoke before Meera could, his voice a rumbling warning.

“N-no, I…I didn’t…well, you don’t know the whole…and, she…” Meera, normally perfectly composed in her beauty and station in life, couldn’t seem to find a grasp on her words. And before she was able to, the back door opened again, revealing Meera’s father.

Calsum Strickland made his way down to the lawn, and Odine saw his own expression morph from concerned to horrified as he got a good look at the soldier.

“Sir, your daughter appears to be doing her best to get this young woman killed. A woman in your household, and therefore, under your protection. Do you condone this?”

Unlike Meera, who had simply begun to blurt whatever she could think at the confrontation, Calsum Strickland took a deep breath.

“No, I do not. But I’m sure this must be some misunderstanding.”

“There is no misunderstanding,” the soldier said, his tone getting icier by the second. “I heard it all myself after accompanying this young lady back from a fangslug attack, which she endured solely to retrieve crispier apples for your daughter. Do you believe this is the behavior that the prince desires in a companion? Or shall I mention something to his highness?”

Calsum Strickland and Meera went even paler as Odine calmly blinked once, twice, and then turned her attention to the soldier. The prince? So that was why the Stricklands had allowed themselves to be lectured. This was no ordinary grunt - this had to be a member of the prince’s personal guard. Someone the Stricklands believed had influence over the royal family, enough so to ruin Meera’s prospects at the palace.

For several months ago, an invitation had arrived at the Strickland estate. Ones like it sent to wealthy and powerful families all over the kingdom who had marriageable-aged daughters. Informing them of a competition to take place at the palace in the upcoming year, where young women would show off their skills in education, homemaking, and magic. The top prospects were assured a place furthering their schooling at the palace, with the prince, the invitation said. What it didn’t say was filled in by all who read it - for the true winner, the actual prize would be the prince. The time to find an appropriate bride was nigh. And the way the royal family would ensure this was, although any lady could technically participate, they would have to be sponsored by a family of means that had been invited. Effectively weeding out any and all undesirable low-status prospects while the lords and ladies of the land put up their own daughters and their own daughters only.

“Sir Fisher,” Calsum Strickland said slowly, and Odine blinked again. So this wasn’t just a member of the prince’s personal guard - it was the member of the prince’s personal guard. The captain of the guard, and the prince’s personal bodyguard, Sir Dominic Fisher. No wonder the man clearly had access to some excellent and plentiful food. “Surely we can work something out. Meera may have made a mistake, and she will be appropriately chastised for it, but taking away her future would be…excessive.”

“Would it?” Dominic Fisher said, his eyebrows raising in disbelief. “I’m not certain I agree. Miss?” He turned his furious gaze onto Odine.

“Yes?” Odine replied slowly, carefully.

“Do you agree? Is your life not worth Meera’s likely temporary position in the palace tournament? As the wronged party, the decision is yours.”

“Meera should be permitted to compete,” Odine said, her tone still even. “But so should I.”

There was a brief moment of silence as each person on the lawn regarded Odine with varying levels of shock. Even Dominic Fisher seemed surprised, but his expression quickly morphed into one of cool fascination.

“So it shall be. Strickland, you will sponsor -” he trailed off and looked back at Odine.

“Odine,” she supplied quietly.

“-Odine, as well as your daughter Meera. Though I sincerely hope Meera does some self reflection before arrival. We don’t need any more treachery in the palace.”

Before he left, Dominic Fisher caught Odine’s eyes with his stormy grey gaze one last time. They were both silent, though Odine’s head inclined in thanks, which he returned before turning and walking back out into the forest.

Odine’s face betrayed nothing, but a warmth spread in her chest that Kelvi took advantage of by curling up in a nearby pocket.
 
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